The most important contribution of all, though, may have come from an inanimate object. The decisive rally in the Tigers’ 7-5 victory over the Texas Rangers in Game 5 — a win that sent the American League Championship Series back to the Lone Star State — began when the baseball gods smiled upon Detroit. A chopper in the sixth inning hopped off third base and sparked a four-run inning. The Tigers survived on their toughness, and they won on luck.
“I have that bag in my office right now,” Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said. “And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you.”
The bounce off third base sparked an offensive explosion that included a natural team cycle — a single, double, triple and home run all in a row, the first in 1,319 postseason games. It saved the Tigers’ season and put the game back in Verlander’s hands, right where his team wanted it.
With Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit — the Tigers’ top two relievers — unable to pitch, Verlander threw 133 pitches in 71
3 innings, the most since Mark Prior threw the same number for the Chicago Cubs in a 2003 NL Division Series. He hit 102 mph in the fifth. He struck out Josh Hamilton with his 120th pitch.
His final fastball zipped at 100 mph. The problem was it traveled faster going out, launched into the left field seats by the scalding Nelson Cruz, who set a championship series record with his fifth homer.
“Made a mistake to a hot hitter,” Verlander said. “I feel good. I’ll be ready to go next time, whether that’s Game 7 out of the bullpen or Game 1 of the World Series. Hopefully, it’s Game 1 of the World Series.”
Cruz’s latest blast proved largely cosmetic, making the score 7-4 in the eighth, because the Tigers’ offense — which a special cameo by third base — had given Verlander room to work with.
The game moved to the bottom of the sixth tied at 2. Ryan Raburn led off with a single off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, the most coveted pitching free agent-to-be in baseball. Up came Miguel Cabrera, who swatted a chopper down the third base line. Adrian Beltre settled behind the base, ready to snare the ball on a high bounce.
“Double play,” Texas Manager Ron Washington thought.
Just as Beltre reached for the ball, it ricocheted off third, bounded over his head and rolled into the left field corner.
“Thank God,” Cabrera thought.
“Score,” Raburn thought.
Raburn raced home to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead and Cabrera slowed into second with a double. From there, they exploded.